The problem isn’t what or why but how

The problem isn’t what or why but how

In his wonderful TED talk viewed over 18.8 million times, Simon Sinek grapples with the modern worker’s search for meaning. When it comes to work, it’s not what we do or how we do it that eludes us, but why.

And yet, in my experience, when it comes to managing our own wellbeing the reverse is true. If I asked you what makes healthy habits I’m sure you’d be able to tell me:

  • Eat healthy foods
  • Move your body
  • Rest and be mindful
  • Stay connected with loved ones

And if I asked you why, you’d say to fuel your body, keep it strong, be at your best and most contented.

So the surprising thing when it comes to our lifestyle habits is that it’s not what we should do or why we should do it that’s the problem, it’s how.

It is my belief that to be our most effective, productive, healthy and happy selves we need to take control of our habits.

As much as 40% of everyday happens by habit (1), and that means by making sure we have our habits right, the rest of life will fall into place. As Stephen Covey so beautifully put it, focus on life’s ‘big rocks’ and the small rocks will fit in too.

So how can you take control of your habits?

It’s not as easy as we think, and in fact there are three common mistakes when trying to change our behaviour.

Mistakes when trying to change habits

1. We rely on willpower, thinking it’s a constant

Unfortunately motivation is tied to our energy levels and can disappear right when we need it most. More here.

2. We think it’s a question of rationality or knowledge

As the Baker IDI Institute research on heart attack victims demonstrated (2), a mere six months after having one of life’s most profound wake-up calls, 50% of survivors were back to unhealthy lifestyle behaviours. Knowing you should change and doing it are two very different things.

3. We underestimate the impact of our environment

The type of music playing in the background can influence your choice of wine; your vote can be influenced by where you cast your ballot; and the height of your ceiling can impact your creativity (more here). We are enormously influenced by both our physical and social environment, and by making some conscious changes you can improve your health without having to think about it ever again.

Now that we know about why it can be tough to make and break habits, how can we make change successfully?

More on that in the coming weeks but if you want to get a jump start, check out my new book The How of Habits: Using Behavioural Science to Make and Break Habits. I wrote it because I knew my what and I knew my why, but I needed to know my how and all the literature I read stopped short of giving me that practical plan. So it’s here now and I’d love to share it with you.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.

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